A few thoughts on voting in local elections

It’s that time of year when across the country, a minority of the electorate will go out and vote for their local councillors. This is how one of our local news outlets is covering the elections: Thurrock about to go to the polls – Neil Speight | Thurrock Nub News | 4 May, 2022. This time round with both the Tories, and to a lesser extant Labour, having to deal with the flak from their ‘Partygate’ and ‘Currygate’ breaches of the lockdown rules they implemented or supported, local candidates are pleading for voters to forget about the national picture and focus on local issues. Those candidates are to be blunt, pissing in the wind and we’ll explain why, using Thurrock where we currently live as an illustration of where power really lies and why many voters reckon it’s not worth the effort of going to the polls.

Having followed the machinations of local politics in Thurrock for more years than we care to remember, one thing has become abundantly clear to us. Namely that it’s the senior cadre of officers at the council who wield the power and all too often, it feels like the elected councillors are just there for the sake of appearances. That’s to the extent of officers making some monumental screw ups and instead of being taken to task over them by the elected councillors, it seems like they’re protected by them instead!

Here’s one example of this which we’ve mentioned before but make no apologies for returning to again: The sorry saga of Stanford-le-Hope railway station continues… 9.2.22. As part of an initiative to facilitate more workers being able to travel by public transport to and from the London Gateway superport on the Essex shore of the Thames estuary, Thurrock Council initiated a comprehensive redevelopment of the railway station at nearby Stanford-le-Hope that was to include a bus interchange. Residents of Stanford-le-Hope will tell you through gritted teeth that this ‘redevelopment’ has got precisely nowhere apart from the demolition of many of the existing station buildings way back in 2019! Briefly, some officer/s at the council sanctioned the demolition of these buildings without properly worked out and costed plans for the new station being in place.

At no point have we, the residents of Stanford-le-Hope, received an adequate explanation, let alone an apology for this debacle from either of the two local ward councillors, both of who are on the Tory ruling group, or the officers responsible. So, we have two ward councillors not doing their job in holding to account the officers who are supposed to be serving them and us, the residents. Seriously, what is the sodding point in voting for councillors who can’t even be arsed to properly monitor their officers?

Then there’s the conduct of the ruling group Tories in seemingly close collaboration with senior officers at Thurrock Council to shut down discussion and evade media scrutiny of their dealings. This piece expresses our frustration and anger, and also that of many residents, at this dismal state of affairs: How much lower can Thurrock Council sink FFS?! 9.2.22. Ruling group councillors would not be able to get away with this without the willing and active co-operation of the senior officers. There’s a culture of secrecy and cover ups at the council that seems to override whoever may supposedly be in power. Again, this begs the question of what’s the point in voting if the officers are going to allowed to continue with this toxic culture?

There are many, many more examples of shite, inexcusable and unaccountable behaviour from senior officers and ruling group councillors at Thurrock Council. We suggest that you have a trawl through the Thurrock Nub News website if you want to read about this although we wouldn’t recommend it if you have high blood pressure!

Overseeing this is the Chief Executive Officer, one Lyn Carpenter. Unelected, unaccountable and according to a fair few pissed off residents and commentators, overpaid. When you’re the CEO of what many would see as a failing council, you would think that turning the ship around would be Carpenter’s number one priority to the exclusion of everything else. It turns out the being the CEO of Thurrock Council is just one of a number of roles she holds: Seriously, you couldn’t make this up if you tried! 12.2.22. Read this and weep or get angry…just make sure there’s nothing breakable to hand! It gets worse – there’s this: Are they serious?! 20.4.22. Yes, Thurrock Council’s chief executive, Lyn Carpenter, has been shortlisted for a top public service award as one of three nominees for ‘Public Sector Pioneer of the Year’. This goes beyond taking this piss – this is rubbing our faces in the dirt FFS! Bear in mind that whatever the conclusion of the local elections in Thurrock turns out to be, Carpenter will still be sitting on top of the pile, unelected, unaccountable and unwanted by a growing number of hacked off residents.

It’s not just Thurrock where we get this level of arrogant shite from unelected, unaccountable and overpaid senior council officers. Regular readers of this blog may well be aware that the two of us behind this project are hoping to have relocated to just outside Bristol at some point in the summer. If you think that we’re going to be escaping the arrogance and fuckwittery of local governance, think again! This piece from the ‘smiters of the high and mighty’ a.k.a. The Bristolian shows that we’ll merely be exchanging the shitshow that’s Thurrock Council for the one that’s the West of England Combined Authority (amongst others): WECXIT. Complete with a CEO who seems to be following the same playbook that Carpenter is, judging by this quote from the article:

This leaves weirdo WECA Chief Exec, Patricia “Psycho” Greer, to further consolidate the uninterrupted power and influence she enjoys over the Metro Mayor position. Greer – whose corporate culture is “like something out of a Hieronymous Bosch painting” – is well known for denying officers any access to the mayor. Insisting that everything goes through her instead. A situation former mayor, Tory Tim Bowels, and now the WECA Man seem comfortable with.

Same shite, different location! Still, The Bristolian are there to do the heavy lifting on exposing the devious machinations of local governance so we will be far from alone:)

Let’s bring things to a conclusion. Whether we’re being asked to vote for local ward councillors, county councillors, city mayors or even regional mayors, an increasing number of people are only too well aware that at the end of the day, it will make f**k all difference. That’s because senior officers are allowed by ruling group councillors to wield too much power. Sometimes, that may be down to councillors not having the bottle to take their senior officers to task. At other times, it’s because they see it as very convenient to have a ‘henchperson’ doing their dirty work for them by fending off anyone wanting to ask some searching questions. So when the turnouts are published after the latest round of local elections, please don’t be surprised that they will be low, possibly lower than ever. This isn’t voter apathy. It’s voters expressing their growing disgust with a system they see as not taking account of their concerns, hopes and aspirations.

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